Coaching and Social Work

A Strategy for Developing Leadership and the Workforce


  • Virginia Rondero Hernandez California State University, Fresno
  • Susan Douglas Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN



coaching, leadership development, workforce development, organizational learning


There is increasing recognition of the merits of coaching in social work, yet gaps in knowledge persist about the use and effectiveness of coaching in social work settings. This article bridges concepts and findings from the literature on coaching to provide readers with the information needed for decision-making about whether and how to integrate coaching into practice. Coaching is currently being used in a number of social work fields of practice to support the transfer of learning, practice implementation efforts, leadership development, and organizational processes. The evolution of coaching from the corporate world into service delivery settings is reviewed, with special attention to the commonalities and distinctions between coaching and social work practice. Knowing more about the background, purpose and value of coaching can equip the profession with further insights about the appropriate application of coaching in the world of social work. Moreover, the reader is invited to assess the potential of coaching as a method for enhancing workforce and leadership competencies and practice behaviors in service of improving client outcomes.

Author Biography

Susan Douglas, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN

Associate Professor of Practice, Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN


American Association of Colleges and Universities. (n.d.). AASCU Leadership development: Principles across programs.

American Council on Education. (2021). On-campus leadership development programs: A sampling of approaches.

Auerbach, J. (2014). The well-being coaching workbook. Executive College Press.

Beattie, R. S., Kim, S., Hagen, M. S., Egan, T. M., Ellinger, A. D., & Hamlin, R. G. (2014). Managerial coaching: A review of the empirical literature and development of a model to guide future practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 16(2), 184-201.

Bock, L. (2015). Work rules! Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. Twelve.

Boyatzis, R. E., Smith, M., & Van Oosten, E. (2019). Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth. Harvard Business Review Press.

Burroughs, M., Allen, K., & Huff, N. (2017). The use of coaching strategies within the field of social work. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 10(1), 4-17.

California Social Work Education Center. (2021). Workforce development toolkit: Background and context.

Cameron, R., & Ebrahimi, M. (2014). Coaching in the workplace. In R. Harris & T. Short (Eds.), Workforce development (pp. 253-268). Springer Singapore.

Cannon, M., Douglas, S., & Butler, D. (2021). Developing coaching mindset and skills. Management Teaching Review.

Capacity Building Center for States. (2017). Coaching in child welfare. Children’s Bureau Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Caspi, J. (2005). Coaching and social work: Challenges and concerns. Social Work, 50(4), 359-362.

Center for Credentialing and Education. (2021). Board Certified Coach (BCC) United States requirements.

Clutterbuck, D. (2020). Coaching the team at work: The definitive guide to team coaching (2nd ed.). Nicholas Brealey.

Clutterbuck, D., Megginson, D., & Bajer, A. (2016). Building and sustaining a coaching culture. Kogan Page.

Covey, S. R. (1992). Principle-centered leadership. Free Press.

Cruz, L., & Rosemond, L. (2017). Coaching academia: The integration of coaching, educational development, and the culture of higher education. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 28(4), 83-108.

Das, A., Connelly, M., & Johnson, B. (2021). Learning from the field: Dynamics of coaching within family and children’s services. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 45(1), 79-87.

Edelson, M. (2010). Values-based coaching: A guide for social workers and other human service professionals. NASW Press.

Edmondson, A. C., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2020, October 19). Today’s leaders need vulnerability, not bravado. Harvard Business Review.

Feltman, C. (2021). The thin book of trust: An essential primer for building trust at work (2nd ed.). Thin Book Publishing.

Fine, A., & Merrill, R. R. (2010). You already know how to be great: A simple way to remove interference and unlock your greatest potential. Portfolio Penguin.

Fixsen, D., Blase, K., Metz, A., & Van Dyke, M. (2015). Implementation science. In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 695-702). Elsevier.

Fixsen, D. L., Naoom, S. F., Blase, K. A., Friedman, R. M., & Wallace, F. (2005). Implementation research: A synthesis of the literature (FMHI Publication #231; The National Implementation Research Network). University of South Florida, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute.

Garvin, D. A. (2013, December 1). How Google sold its engineers on management. Harvard Business Review.

George, B., & Sims, P. (2007). True north: Discover your authentic leadership (1st ed). Jossey-Bass.

Goleman, D. (2004, January 1). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence (10th anniversary ed.). Harvard Business Review Press.

Grant, A. M. (2017). The third ‘generation’ of workplace coaching: Creating a culture of quality conversations. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 10(1), 37-53.

Hart, V., Blattner, J., & Leipsic, S. (2001). Coaching versus therapy: A perspective. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 53(4), 229-237.

Hatton-Bowers, H., Pecora, P. J., Johnson, K., Brooks, S., & Schindell, M. (2015). Evaluating training to promote critical thinking skills for determining children’s safety. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(2), 298-314.

Hawkins, P. (2012). Creating a coaching culture. Open University Press.

Hawkins, P. (2021). Leadership team coaching: Developing collective transformational leadership (4th ed.). Kogan Page.

Henwood, B. F., Siantz, E., Center, K., Bataille, G., Pomerance, E., Clancy, J., & Gilmer, T. P. (2020). Advancing integrated care through practice coaching. International Journal of Integrated Care, 20(2), 15.

Hudson, F. M. (1999). The handbook of coaching: A comprehensive resource guide for managers, executives, consultants, and human resource professionals (1st ed). Jossey-Bass Publishers.

International Coaching Federation [ICF]. (2019). Updated ICF core competencies.

ICF. (2020). 2020 ICF global coaching study. International Coaching Federation.

ICF. (2021a). Continue your coaching journey: Credentials and standards.

ICF. (2021b). ICF core values.

ICF. (2021c). ICF, the gold standard in coaching: Read about ICF.

ICF. (2021d). Membership and credentialing fact sheet.

ICF. (2022). History of ICF.

Jones, R. J., Napiersky, U., & Lyubovnikova, J. (2019). Conceptualizing the distinctiveness of team coaching. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 34(2), 62-78.

Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y. R. F. (2016). The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89(2), 249-277.

Jost, A. (2013). Social workers who become life coaches: What does the social work field have to learn [Masters Thesis, Smith College].

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Lacerenza, C. N., Reyes, D. L., Marlow, S. L., Joseph, D. L., & Salas, E. (2017). Leadership training design, delivery, and implementation: A meta-analysis. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(12), 1686-1718.

Lasky, E. (2021). The ethical compatibility between social work and coaching. Social Work Today.

Levasseur, R. E. (2013). People skills: Developing soft skills—a change management perspective. Interfaces, 43(6), 566-571.

Martinez, J. (2016). Life coaching and therapy: Possibilities in dual practice. Social Work Master’s Clinical Research Papers.

Metz, A., Albers, B., Burke, K., Bartley, L., Louison, L., Ward, C., & Farley, A. (2021). Implementation practice in human service systems: Understanding the principles and competencies of Ppofessionals who support implementation. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 45(3), 238-259.

Moore, M., Jackson, E., & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2016). Coaching psychology manual (2nd ed.). Wolters Kluwer.

National Association of Social Work [NASW]. (2020). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Work.

NASW. (2021). Why choose the social work profession?

National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. (n.d.). Our faculty success program coaches.

National Child Welfare Workforce Institute [NCWWI]. (2018). Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (LAMM): Implementation guide. Author.

NCWWI. (n.d.). Home.

Pace, P. (2016). Coaching can be a logical career move. NASW News.

Paul, M., & Myers, T. (2021, March 3). Umbrella summary: Coaching. Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development.

Pecora, P. J. (2018). The child welfare challenge: Policy, practice, and research (4th ed.). Routledge.

Perrault, E. L. J., & Coleman, H. D. J. (2004). Coaching within social work field education. The Clinical Supervisor, 23(2), 47-64.

Peterson, K. J. (2012). Shared decision making in health care settings: A role for social work. Social Work in Health Care, 51(10), 894-908.

Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development. (n.d.). Home.

Reardon, C. (2016). Coaching’s growth offers new opportunities for social workers. Social Work Today.

Robin, C., & Bradford, D. L. (2004). Leadership excellence and the “soft” skills: Authenticity, influence and performance (Working Paper No. 1999). Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Rofuth, T. W., & Piepenbring, J. M. (2019). Management and leadership in social work: A competency based approach. Springer Publishing Company, LLC.

Ross-Sheriff, F., & Orme, J. (2017). Mentoring and coaching. In F. Ross-Sheriff & J. Orme (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Social Work. NASW Press and Oxford University Press.

Scheyett, A., Roberts, A., & Kirk, R. (2001). Social work practitioners and technology transfer. Professional Development: The International Journal of Continuing Social Work Education, 4(2), 42-53.

Shafer, K. C., Kiebzak, L., Dwoskin, J., & Zelvin, E. (2003). Coaching: New role for addictions social workers? Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 3(2), 105-112.

Sonesh, S. C., Coultas, C. W., Lacerenza, C. N., Marlow, S. L., Benishek, L. E., & Salas, E. (2015). The power of coaching: A meta-analytic investigation. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 8(2), 73-95.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B., & van Vianen, A. E. M. (2014). Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(1), 1-18.

Tompson, H. B., Vickers, M., London, J., & Morrison, C. L. (2008). Coaching: A global study of successful practices. American Management Association.

University of California, Berkeley. (2021). Berkeley people and culture: BPM Part 3, grow your team.

University of California, Davis [UCD]. (2013). The coaching toolkit for child welfare practice.

Westfall, C. (2019, June 20). Leadership development Is a $366 billion industry: Here’s why most programs don’t work. Forbes.

Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. (2019). Developing management skills (10th ed.). Pearson.

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for performance: The principles and practice of coaching and leadership (5th ed.). Nicholas Brealey.

Widdowson, L., Rochester, L., Barbour, P. J., & Hullinger, A. M. (2020). Bridging the team coaching competency gap: A review of the literature. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 18(2), 35-50.

Williams, P. (2015). The life coach operating system: Its foundations in psychology. In D. B. Drake, D. Brennan, & K. Gørtz (Eds.), The Philosophy and Practice of Coaching: Insights and issues for a new era (pp. 1-25). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Willis, R. (2021, January 4). Three trends that will shape the future of coaching. International Coaching Federation.

Wood, A. (2021, July 1). Go beyond diversity: Why inclusive leadership is vital for your DEIB efforts to succeed. BetterUp.

Zaki, J. (2019, May 30). Making empathy central to your company culture. Harvard Business Review.